I initially wrote this story last year, but the subject matter is too good to not share again. The story itself is edited to reflect the current year. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed watching the events of those two days as they happened!
We’ve all heard the saying that a picture is worth 1,000 words.
But I’m going to test my theory that 1,000 words can be worth one picture. You’ll just have to read to the end of this story in order to see one of my favorite photographs – even though it’s been slightly doctored.
I have had a copy of the original photo for 16 years. But it’s one I’ve had to keep hidden in the vault – OK, actually a closet – since the girls were old enough to recognize what a swear finger is.
They’re now at the point where I can display it again, and they’ll laugh when they see the real photo. But the internet is a tricky place, even in 2017, so the edited version is what you get to see. But I think you’ll laugh at that picture, too.
Sixteen years ago this week, the photograph was snapped. Sixteen years ago this week, an amazing two-game stretch took place – as Jon Lieber and Kerry Wood fired back-to-back complete-game one-hitters.
The Cubs have been around since 1876, and that specific feat has only taken place one time – on May 24-May 25, 2001.
I could tell you the story of those games myself, but I couldn’t do it enough justice. So I tracked down Lieber and Wood to talk about those memorable consecutive afternoons at Wrigley Field.
May 24, 2001 … Cubs 3, Reds 0 … the lone hit off Lieber was a two-out 6th-inning single by Juan Castro
“That was probably the best game I ever pitched,” Lieber said. “I do remember the rain delay before the start of the game.
“I seemed like my normal self, and it was just one of those games where the Reds were very aggressive – they were swinging the bat early and quickly. There was a rain delay during the game. It happened right after I pitched the 4th inning. During the delay, (pitching coach) Oscar (Acosta) comes up to me and he said, ‘How do you feel?’ And I said, ‘I feel fine. There’s nothing wrong with me. Why?’ And he said, ‘That’s what I thought, because you’ve only got 20 pitches through 4 innings.’ That just blew me away.
“The game was delayed for about an hour and a half, and I think I shocked more people by going back out there for the 5th inning. I kept putting up the numbers, getting out of innings with low pitches. The next thing you know, I have this no-hitter going into the (6th) inning. There were two outs, and Juan Castro flipped a slider … I don’t think it was a terrible pitch, but it was enough for him to flip his bat out there and bloop it into rightfield. That was the story of my career. Any time I tried to finish something like that, I could never do it. Anyway, I moved on after losing the no-hitter.
“For me, even though I didn’t get the no-hitter, just to be able to face the minimum number of batters for a nine-inning game is pretty impressive, in my opinion.
“And then … Mr. Wood steps into the picture.”
For his part, Wood remembers Lieber being in a “zone” that day and having a double-digit pitch count.
“He was ridiculous,” Wood said. “But that was typical Liebs. He just went out there and, as quickly as he got the ball back, he was throwing it back to the catcher. He’d get in that zone. He had a bunch of games where he was under 90 pitches. It was pretty impressive. He took pride in that.”
May 25, 2001 … Cubs 1, Brewers 0 … the lone hit off Wood was a 7th-inning leadoff single by Mark Loretta
“Me and Lieber … we were two totally different pitchers,” Wood said. “We were in a rhythm there where we were all feeding off each other. We were all throwing the ball well.
“I remember Liebs was typical Liebs. He did his under two hours. He was locked in. Anytime somebody does something like that the day before you pitch, you want to do your best to follow it and emulate it. So it was a cool couple days.
“My game honestly doesn’t jump out as much. I know it was Milwaukee. I couldn’t tell you how many strikeouts I had. I couldn’t tell you any particular defensive plays that were made. I do remember me and Lieber throwing back-to-back against two different teams, but honestly I don’t have a whole lot of memory of who was on that team – as sad as that is.
“But I’m getting old. My memory is going,” he said with a laugh.
Wood is almost 40 years old now – and that’s not a typo on Kid K’s age – so he did have to ask how many pitches he threw that afternoon. The answer was 114.
“That was a low pitch count for me to go nine innings,” Wood said. “Liebs had a lot of balls put in play. I tended to have more foul balls and three-ball counts. Lieber didn’t walk anybody. So he kept his pitch count down regularly.”
Unlike the rainy wet conditions the day before, the sun was out that afternoon – and Lieber was in a great third-base dugout location for Wood’s gem.
“Man oh man oh man, did he put on a show,” Lieber said. “I saw Kerry pitch a lot of games, but that one just stuck out in my opinion. He was untouchable. That was as close to the 20-strikeout game – he was just that dominant. He was impressive. And his command – that was probably one of his best games. He should have had a no-hitter – he was just that dominant.
“For me, it was just another game. Wow, a one-hitter – OK. But then Kerry threw his game.
“Kerry and I did something pretty special … That was just a great moment to be part of. I didn’t get those chances very often to be in situations like that. Kerry was just on such a different level because of the type of pitcher he was. He could do something special almost every time out. It was incredible – and pretty neat to be part of something like that.”
May 26, 2001 … Wrigley Field third-base dugout … pregame … epic photo op
“Me and Liebs are pretty humble guys,” Wood said. “We didn’t think much of it. We were enjoying our day off.
“(Cubs team photographer) Steve Green came by before the next game. We were sitting next to each other, just kind of talking. He looked at us with his camera and said, ‘Hey you guys, put up a No. 1.’
“Me and Liebs looked at each other and we both gave Steve the finger at the same time.
“That’s one of my favorite pictures. I’ve got about 1,000 pictures from Steve, but that’s my favorite one – me and Lieber. I have it hanging up in the basement.”